5 November 2007

Last Rites - The Ocker Doc

Few patients ask to pray with their doctor. Godfrey was an exception. He had spent most of his life in the Christian missionary service, or rather his life was a missionary service. He had founded a Bible College.

I heard about him at church. He replaced the regular minister one Sunday night. The congregation was very impressed with the 'old missionary'.

Two weeks later he came to clinic in pain. He had prostate cancer that had spread to his bones. Radiation therapy to the sore spots was very successful in relieving the pain - as it usually is. He agreed that the aim of treatment was his comfort. He was very matter-of-fact that his lifespan was firmly in the hands of his God. At the very end of the consultation he asked, "Will you pray with me?" I did.

Between follow-up visits a medical friend working at a nearby hospital called one night. Godfrey had broken his leg. An orthopaedic surgeon had fixed the unstable bone. Although this solved the immediate problem, he did not recover well. He was not walking, and was nauseated. Now doctors have a saying "to a hammer, everything looks like a nail"! Which means that the care of an orthopaedic surgeon is focused, not unexpectedly, on bones and he wasn't getting good care. I'm the same with non-cancer bone conditions, by the way.

I stopped in on a social visit. As much to support my medical friend who was floundering, as to see that Godfrey was getting appropriate treatment.

It turned out that he had liver secondaries and kidney failure. Liver secondaries in prostate cancer usually signify impending death in the next few weeks, while kidney failure usually causes death in a few days. The kidney problem is treatable but the liver secondaries are not. I discussed these things with him. He decided that treating the kidneys would only prolong the inevitable. And he thought that the kidney death sounded easier.

The next day he was very agitated and despondent. We talked about the agitation. He couldn't put a finger on it. On a hunch, I said to him "Are you worried that your Christian commitment may have been misplaced all these decades?" He felt ashamed, he doubted his commitment and his God.

Fortunately he was wrong. "Godfrey, go back over your life. What does you life's story tell you? Were you wrong?" No, I wasn't. "This is the anxiety that everyone suffers at the end - did I do it right? Could I have done it better?" He nodded his head. I quoted him a verse from Matthew's epistle 'Well done, you good and faithful servant'. "That's what He will say to you".

Godfrey relaxed. He nodded in agreement. The next day he was calm and serene. His entire family came to see him and was happy that he was settled. It tired him out but he said goodbye to each one. Then, after they had left, he closed his eyes and went to meet his God. He was ready to go home.